Category Archives: People of Interest

Mausoleum of Augustus: Restoration and Updates are Coming

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Have we got some big news for you. On 16 January 2017, it was shared that an Italian telecommunications company has contributed €6-million for its restoration.

The company was not named, unfortunately, but its director promising an elaborate multimedia show that will tell the story of Augustus and ancient Rome. If you care to read the article from The Telegraph you can do so here.

This got us excited about what lies ahead for the resting place of Augustus, Rome‘s 1st Emperor. Back on 6 June 2016, we wrote an article called Mausoleum of Augustus: Resting Place for Rome’s Original Emperor.

With all the good news we thought it’d be a perfect time to revisit the Mausoleum of Augustus!

Mausoleum of Augustus on the Campus Martius.

As we venture from East to West and from North to South, it’s always nice to just get back home. In this case we do not mean Texas, we are talking about Rome.

Location of the Mausoleum of Augustus in the Campus Martius on the banks of the Tiber.

The mausoleum is a large tomb built by the Emperor Augustus in 28 BC on the Campus Martius in Rome, Italy. The mausoleum is located on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore, near the corner with Via di Ripetta as it runs along the Tiber.

The grounds cover an area equivalent to a few city blocks, and nestle between the Church of San Carlo al Corso and the Museum of the Ara Pacis. The interior of the mausoleum is not open to tourists.

Original design for the Mausoleum of Augustus.

The mausoleum was one of the original projects initiated by Augustus following his victory at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. The mausoleum was circular in plan, consisting of several concentric rings of earth and brick, planted with cypress trees on top of the building and capped by a conical roof and a 15 ft-tall bronze statue of Augustus.

Vaults held up the roof and opened up the burial spaces below. The completed mausoleum measured 295 ft in diameter by 137 ft in height.

The arched entryway to the Mausoleum of Augustus.

A corridor ran from the entryway into the heart of the mausoleum. Here there was a chamber with 3 niches to hold the golden urns enshrining the ashes of the Imperial Family.

The traditional story is that in AD 410, during the sack of Rome by Alaric, the pillaging Visigoths rifled the vaults, stole the urns and scattered the ashes, without damaging the structure of the building. In the Middle Ages the tumulus was fortified as a castle— as was the mausoleum of Hadrian, which was turned into the Castel Sant’Angelo— and occupied by the Colonna family.

Inside Plan
Inside plan of the mausoleum.

After the disastrous defeat of the Commune of Rome at the hands of the Count of Tusculum in AD 1167, the Colonna were disgraced and banished, and their fortification in the Campo was dismantled. The area thus became a ruin.

Augustus – “I found a Rome of bricks; I leave to you one of marble.”

In the early 20th Century the Mausoleum of Augusts was made into a concert hall. It was not until the 1930s that the site was opened as a preserved archaeological landmark along with the newly moved and reconstructed Ara Pacis nearby.

The restoration of the Mausoleum of Augustus to a place of prominence was part of Benito Mussolini‘s ambitious reordering of the city. This stripping away of everything modern upon the ruins and monuments of Rome was his attempt to connect the aspirations of Italian Fascism with the former glories of the Roman Empire.

Mussolini viewed himself especially connected to the achievements of Augustus, seeing himself as a “reborn Augustus” ready to usher in a new age of Italian dominance. We all know Augustus, and that Mussolini was no Augustus.

Quirinal Fountain
Quirinal Fountain

Twin pink granite obelisks also once flanked the arched entryway, but have since been removed. One now stands at the Piazza dell’Esquilino (on the northwest side of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore) and the other at the Quirinal Fountain.

Even though the monument was to be the final resting place of The First Emperor, Augustus was not the original person laid to rest there.

Included among those whose remains were laid inside the mausoleum before the death of Augustus were: Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who was the 1st to be buried there in 23 BC; Marcus Agrippa in 12 BC; Nero Claudius Drusus in 9 BC; Octavia Minor, the sister of Augustus in 9 or 11 BC; then Gaius (4 AD) and Lucius (2 AD), grandsons and heirs of Augustus.

After the death of Augustus, the mausoleum hosted the ashes of: Livia, wife of Augustus; GermanicusAgrippina the Elder; Julia Livilla, Agrippina’s daughter; Nero, son of Germanicus; Drusus Caesar, son of Germanicus; CaligulaTiberius; Drusus Julius Caesar, son of Tiberius; Antonia Minor, mother of Claudius; Claudius; Britannicus, the son of Claudius; the embalmed body of Poppaea Sabina wife of Nero;  Julia Domna, who was later moved to the Mausoleum of Hadrian; and Nerva, the last Emperor for whom the mausoleum was opened.

Inside the mausoleum

At the original time of this article (almost a year ago) Rome Commissioner Francesco Paolo Tronca had approved a €6-million preliminary project to complete restoration work at the Mausoleum of Augustus. Funding was to serve to finish structural work on the monumental tomb including covering it, building a circular catwalk around it, and preparing it to open for public visits.

This commitment to restoring Rome’s historical monuments not only benefits tourism, but it also keeps alive remnants from a dominate world culture for future generations. Keeping Rome’s past intact benefits everyone.

Painting showing a contemporary view of the Mausoleum of Augustus.

With the Telecom Italia’s €6-million for restoration and upgrades, both inside and out, this monument should be a new tourist draw for Rome. Having once been 1 of the key monuments in the history of mankind, the Mausoleum of Augustus is set to reclaim that title.

Tourists will be immersed in the most sensational story of humanity, from imperial Rome to the beginnings of Christianity and the Baroque period,” said Giuseppe Recchi, the president of Telecom Italia.

We hope you enjoyed our trip to the Romani Patriae and look forward to having you back again. Make sure to check us out on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Dal Maso, Leonardo B. Rome of the Caesars. Bonechi: Florence, 1974.

Lanciani, Rodolfo. Pagan and Christian Rome. 1892. On-line.

Young, Norwood; P. Barrera. Rome and Its Story. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd: London, 1951.

Mausoleum of Augustus Restoration Project to Begin”. Archaeology News Network. 04 March 2016.

Squires, Nick. “Giant mausoleum in Rome that held the remains of the emperor Augustus to be restored after decades of neglect”. The Telegraph. 16 January 2017.

The Constantinian Dynasty: Keeping the Empire Alive

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

As I attempt to bring the best possible content, especially during my hectic work and educational schedule, I have been trying to revisit previous articles in hopes of coming across new information. That did not happen today though.

Today we take a journey down a long, distinguished family tree as we explore the Constantinian Dynasty!

The Battle of the Milvian Bridge (1520–24) by Giulio Romano.

The Constantinian Dynasty was an informal name for the ruling family of the Roman Empire from Constantius I Chlorus to the death of Julian in AD 363. It is named after its most famous member, Constantine the Great who became the sole ruler of the Empire in AD 324.

The dynasty is also called Neo-Flavian because every Constantinian Emperor bore the name Flavius, similarly to the rulers of the original Flavian Dynasty in the 1st Century. In order to get the full flavor of this dynasty, however, we need to take a look a little farther back.

Laureate head of Diocletian (Istanbul Archeological Museum).

The accession on 20 November 284 of Diocletian, the lower-class, Greek-speaking Dalmatian commander of Carus‘s and Numerian‘s household cavalry, marked a major departure from traditional Roman constitutional theory regarding the Emperor. From the Principate through Diocletian’s accession, the Emperor was known as the Primus Inter Pares (First Among Equals).

Whereas before Emperors had worn only a purple toga and were greeted with deference, Diocletian wore jeweled robes and shoes. He even went so far as to require those who greeted him to kneel and kiss the hem of his robe.

In many ways, Diocletian was the initial monarchical Emperor, and this is symbolized by the fact that the word Dominus (Lord) rapidly replaced Princeps (First in Time or Order) as the favored word for referring to the Emperor. In short, the Dominate represents a time when the Emperors unabashedly showcased their status and authority compared to the earlier Principate.

The Dominate also featured a shift in the Empire’s “center of gravity” from the West (Rome) to the East (Constantinople), particularly after the establishment of Constantinople. Neither Diocletian nor his co-Emperor Maximian spent much time in Rome after 286 AD, establishing their Imperial capitals at Nicomedia and Mediolanum (modern Milan), respectively.

Constantius I Chlorus (Pushkin Museum)

The Constantinian Dynasty properly began with Constantius I Chlorus (Caesar AD 293, Augustus AD 305), an experienced Illyrian soldier and General. The Constantiniani were originally another family of “Barracks Emperors” that is they were proclaimed Emperor by the Legions they commanded.

The dynasty retained and reinforced the monarchical evolution of the Imperial dignity, and sponsored the pivotal Edict of Milan in AD 312. This extended official toleration to Christianity, which had previously suffered considerable persecution under recent Emperors.

Constantine I undertook major reforms of Imperial administration and military organization, founded a new Imperial capital at Constantinople on 8 November 324 AD, summoned the primary Christian Ecumenical Council (First Council of Nicaea in AD 325), and became the paramount Christian Emperor in AD 337.

Constantinian Emperors

Constantine the Great (Capitoline Museums)

Constantine I aka Constantine the Great (Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus): 324 – 337

Constantine was the son of Flavius Valerius Constantius (aka Constantius Chlorus), a Roman Army Officer, and his consort Helena. Acclaimed as Emperor by the Army at Eboracum (modern-day York) after his father’s death in 306 AD, Constantine emerged victorious in a series of civil wars against the Emperors Maxentius and Licinius to become sole ruler of both West and East by 324 AD.

Constantine the Great (mosaic in the Hagia Sophia)

Before Constantine’s death, he divided the Empire into 4 parts governed by Caesares, apparently intending to re-establish the Tetrarchy. He left most of the West to his son Constantine II, the East to his son Constantius II, Italia and the Upper Danube to his son Constans I, and Greece and the Lower Danube to his half-nephew Flavius Dalmatius.

Dalmatius was killed shortly after Constantine’s death. The Empire was then divided into 3 parts (Britannia, Hispania, and Gallia; Italia and Africa; and the East).


Constantine II as Caesar on top of the Cordonata (the monumental ladder climbing up to Piazza del Campidoglio), in Rome.

Constantine II (Flavius Claudius Constantinus Augustus): 337 – 340

Constantine II was Emperor of Britannia, Hispania, and Gallia. The eldest son of Constantine the Great and Fausta, after the death of his half-brother Crispus, Constantine II was born in Arles in February 316 AD and raised as a Christian.

In AD 340, Constantine II invaded Constans I’s territory in Italia. He was subsequently defeated and killed at Aquileia, and his provinces passed to the control of the brother whom he had attempted to displace.


Bust of Constans I (Louvre)

Constans I (Flavius Iulius Constans Augustus): 337 – 350

Originally Emperor of Italia and Africa, Constans I annexed the provinces of his late brother Constantine II in AD 340, and became Emperor of the whole West. Anger in the Army over the personal life of Constans and the preference for his barbarian bodyguards led the General Magnentius to rebel, resulting in the assassination of Constans in 350 AD.


Golden multiplus of Magnentius

Magnentius (Flavius Magnus Magnentius Augustus): 350 – 353

Not born from the bloodline of Constantine, Magnentius was a usurper who ruled the West after Constans. Magnentius’s defeat in AD 353 by Constantius II, the last of the brother Emperors, reunified the Empire under a single Emperor.


Bust of Constantius II from Syria (University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology).

Constantius II (Flavius Julius Constantius Augustus): 337 – 361

The 2nd son of Constantine and Fausta, Constantius II ascended to the throne as Emperor in the East. In AD 353, Constantius II defeated the usurper Magnentius at Lyon and became sole Emperor, again uniting West and East.



Julian on a bronze coin from Antioch.

Julian the Apostate (Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus): 355 – 363

Julian became Caesar over the western provinces by order of Constantius II in AD 355, and in this role campaigned successfully against the Alamanni and Franks. Most notable was his crushing victory over the Alamanni in 357 AD at the Battle of Argentoratum (Strasbourg), leading his 13,000 men against a Germanic army 3 times larger.

In AD 360, he was proclaimed Augustus in Lutetia Parisiorum (Paris) by his soldiers thus sparking a civil war between Julian and Constantius. Before the 2 could face each other in battle, however, Constantius died, after naming Julian as his rightful successor.


Dynastic relationships

The shrine to Saint Helena of Constantinople (aka Constantine’s mother) in St. Peter’s Basilica (Rome).

Constantius I Chlorus married twice. His earliest wife Helena bore him a son, Constantine I.

Constantine I’s 2nd wife Fausta (daughter of Maximian and Eutropia; sister of Maxentius; half-sister of Constantius I’s 2nd wife Theodora) bore him 3 sons (Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans I) and 2 daughters (Constantina and Helena).

These children were nieces and nephews of Maxentius, half-nieces and half-nephews of Licinius (who had married their father’s half-sister), and grandchildren of Maximian.

Constantius I’s 2nd wife Theodora (stepdaughter of Maximian and half-sister of Fausta) bore him 2 sons (Flavius Dalmatius and Julius Constantius) and 2 daughters (Eutropia and Constantia, the wife of Licinius). Julius Constantius’s sons Constantius Gallus and Julian married Constantine I’s daughters by Fausta, Constantia and Helena, respectively.

Constantius II’s daughter Constantia married Gratianus (see below), the son of Valentinian I (see below).

Constantinian Family Tree

To summarize:

Constantius I Chlorus: father (and stepbrother-in-law) of Constantine I, grandfather of Constantine II, Constantius II, Constans I, and Julian the Apostate, father-in-law of Licinius, adopted son and stepson-in-law of Maximian, adoptive brother and half-brother-in-law of Maxentius

Constantine I: son (and stepbrother-in-law) of Constantius I Chlorus, son-in-law of Maximian, brother-in-law of Maxentius, half-brother-in-law of Licinius, father of Crispus, Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans I, half-uncle and father-in-law of Julian the Apostate

Constantine II: son of Constantine I, grandson of Constantius I Chlorus, grandson of Maximian, nephew of Maxentius, half-nephew of Licinius, brother of Crispus, Constantius II, and Constans I, half-cousin and brother-in-law of Julian the Apostate

Constantius II: son of Constantine I, grandson of Constantius I Chlorus, grandson of Maximian, nephew of Maxentius, half-nephew of Licinius, brother of Crispus, Constantine II, and Constans I, half-cousin and brother-in-law of Julian the Apostate, father-in-law of Gratianus

Constans I: son of Constantine I, grandson of Constantius I Chlorus, grandson of Maximian, nephew of Maxentius, half-nephew of Licinius, brother of Crispus, Constantine II, and Constantius II, half-cousin and brother-in-law of Julian the Apostate

Julian the Apostate: grandson of Constantius I Chlorus, step-great-grandson of Maximian, step-great-nephew of Maxentius, half-nephew and son-in-law of Constantine I, half-cousin and brother-in-law of Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans I

We hope you’ve enjoyed today’s climb through a most distinguished family tree. We look forward to having you back again for more adventures.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Moore, Scott. The Stemmata of the Neo-Flavian Emperors. DIR, 1998.

Moore, Scott. The Stemmata of the Emperors of the Tetrarchy. DIR, 1998.

A Coronation: Revisited

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

As I am presently working full-time, as well as taking certification courses in order to become a teacher in Texas and add to that helping my wife raise our 1-year old son, I am pretty busy now.

In order to provide the RAE Empire with continuous content, I am rehashing some articles from earlier times. This particular piece was initially shared 6 January 2015.

Today we revisit the ascension of  Constantine XI Dragaš Palaiologos to the throne of the Eastern Roman Empire!Constantine_Palaiologos

It is 12 December 1452 AD in Constantinople. The union of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches was just proclaimed in the presence of the Papal Legate and Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory III.

Since 31 October 1448 AD, the throne of Byzantine has been empty. Emperor John VIII Palaeologus died childless and nobody had yet been proclaimed the new ruler.

Not until 6 January 6 1449 AD. This is the day that John VIII’s brother, Constantine XI Dragaš Palaiologos, is proclaimed Emperor of Byzantine.

In 476 AD the single Imperium Rōmānum had officially split into Eastern and Western halves with the fall of Romulus Augustus in the West. Constantine XI would take over his namesake’s (Constantine the 220px-Constantine_I_Hagia_SophiaGreat) capital city of Constantinople in order to rule the East.

Born in Constantinople (8 February 1405) as the 8th of ten children (the 4th son), Constantine XI was extremely fond of his mother and added her surname (Dragases) next to his own dynastic one when he rose to the imperial throne. Constantine XI spent most of his childhood in Constantinople under the supervision of his parents.

During his youth Constantine XI was trained as a soldier. He later became Governor of Selymbria for a time.

Double-Headed Eagle
Marble relief of a double-headed eagle in the Church of St Demetrios in Mystras, marking the spot where Constantine XI was crowned.

In AD 1427, despot Theodore II of the Morea (Constantine XI’s older brother, the 2nd son) announced his decision to resign his power in this important Peloponnesian territory. When Constantine XI arrived, however, Theodore had changed his mind.

It was then agreed that Constantine XI should renew Byzantine efforts to conquer the areas of the Peloponnesus still in Latin hands, thus making an enclave for himself. He attacked Glarentza and finally won the city in 1428 by marrying the ruler’s niece.

By 1430 Constantine XI had conquered Patras and thus controlled the northern Peloponnesus. Two years later his younger brother Thomas annexed the last segments of Achaea, thereby placing all of the Peloponnesus in Byzantine hands for the first time since the Fourth Crusade (1204).

During the absence of his older brother in Italy, John VIII attended the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1437 to 1440). In his brother’s sted Constantine XI Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last Byzantine Emperorwas Regent in Constantinople (1437-1440).

During the following years Constantine XI presided over what was to be the final flowering of Byzantine unity and prosperity in the Peloponnesus.

In 1442 Turks, under Murad, sieged Constantinople which was defended by Emperor John VIII Palaeologos. Simultaneously, Constantine XI fought the Turks on the island of Limnos.

There he lost his 2nd wife, Katherine. Constantine XI then became Despótēs of the Morea in October 1443, ruling from the fortress and palace in Mistra. At the time, Mistra was a fortified town known as Sparta.

Due to its proximity to the ancient city, this was a center of arts and culture rivaling Constantinople.

Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last Byzantine Emperor.

Upon succeeding his brother to the imperial throne, Constantine XI proceeded cautiously regarding the hated agreements for Church union with the Latins. It seems John had in haste accepted terms unfavorable to the East at Florence in hopes of winning Latin aid.

Finally, under pressure from Rome, Constantine XI allowed the union to be proclaimed. This act greatly antagonized the bulk of his subjects, while it actually won him little effective help from the Latin West.

With only token help from outside, Constantine XI had to face the Empire’s last agony, as the Turkish sultan Mohammed II launched his great siege against Constantinople in early April 1453. The Turks finally broke into the city on 29 May 1453 as Constantine XI died bravely during the ensuing sack.

Legend has it that when the Ottomans entered the Constantinople, an angel rescued the Emperor. Said angel then turned Constantine XI into marble and placed him in a cave under the earth near the Golden Gate.

The Golden Gate and the Castle of Seven Towers in 1685. The dense settlement inside the walls of the fortress is evident, as well as the still-preserved outer gate of the Golden Gate, decorated with relief panels.

fatihsultanmehmetvThis is where the Emperor waits today to be brought back to life again to conquer the city for the Christians. Ahmed Pasha, while serving as ambassador to Russia in 1834, presented Tsar Nicholas with a jewel-encrusted sword supposedly taken from Constantine XI’s corpse.

Constantine XI’s legacy was used as a rallying cry for Greeks during their War for Independence with the Ottoman Empire. Today the Emperor is considered a Greek national hero.

During the Balkan Wars and the Greco-Turkish War, under the influence of the Megali Idea, the name of the then-Greek king, Constantine, was used in Greece as a popular confirmation of the prophetic myth about the Marble King who would liberate Constantinople and recreate the lost Empire.

Statue of Constantine XI in Athens.

History can be recorded. Myths can be created.

What matters most is that the past is remembered. Here is to Rome and its Emperors.

We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure. We look forward to sharing more with you again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Crowley, Roger. 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West. Hyperion, 2005. ISBN 1-4013-0850-3.

Harris, JonathanThe End of Byzantium. Yale University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-300-11786-8.

Nicol, Donald M. The Immortal Emperor. Cambridge University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-521-46717-9.

Nicol, Donald M. The Last Centuries of Byzantium. Cambridge University Press, 1993, 2nd edition. ISBN 0-521-43991-4.

Murr Nehme, Lina. 1453: The Fall of Constantinople. Aleph Et Taw. 2003. ISBN 2-86839-816-2.

Runciman, StevenThe Fall of Constantinople, 1453. Cambridge University Press, 1965. ISBN 0-521-09573-5

Celebrating Saint Lucia: Patron Saint of the Blind and Those with Eye-Trouble

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Whenever there is a date attached to a significant event or celebration, we try to make certain to share it with everyone. Whether it be the birthdate of Julius Caesar (13 July 100 BC) or the Saturnalia festival (17 December).

No matter what we discover or where we journey our plan is to make it as interesting as possible. With the holiday season upon us, though, we thought we should check out some festive commemorations.

Lucy by Cosimo Rosselli, Florence, c. 1470, tempera on panel.
Lucy by Cosimo Rosselli, Florence, c. 1470, tempera on panel.

Keeping that in mind, today we celebrate Saint Lucy and Feast of Saint Lucia!

Lucia is venerated as a Saint by the Roman CatholicAnglicanLutheran, and Orthodox Churches. She is 1 of 8 women, who along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

Before we begin in the merriment of Saint Lucy, however, let’s first get to know more about this Saint.

Aside from having lots of variations with her name (Saint Lucy, Saint Lucia or Santa Lucia [in Italian]), little is truly known about Lucia of Syracuse. What is certain is that Lucia was a young Christian martyr who died during the Diocletianic Persecution of AD 304.

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883).
The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883).

The Diocletianic or Great Persecution was the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. In 303 AD, the Emperors DiocletianMaximianGalerius, and Constantius issued a series of edicts rescinding the legal rights of Christians and demanding that they comply with traditional Roman religious practices.

According to the traditional story, Lucy was born of rich and noble parents about the year AD 283, her father was of Roman origin while her mother Eutychia was Greek. Lucia’s father died when she was 5 years old, leaving her and her mother without a protective guardian.

Like many of the early martyrs, Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God, and hoped to distribute her dowry to the poor. Eutychia, not knowing of Lucy’s promise and suffering herself from a bleeding disorder, feared for Lucy’s future and arranged Lucy’s marriage to a young man of a wealthy pagan family.

Eutychia and Lucy at the Tomb of Saint Agatha, by Jacobello del Fiore.
Eutychia and Lucy at the Tomb of Saint Agatha, by Jacobello del Fiore.

During the Decian Persecution (about 52 years earlier) Saint Agatha had been martyred and her shrine at Catania attracted a number of pilgrims. Many miracles many miracles were reported to have happened through Agatha’s intercession, so in hopes of a curing herself Eutychia journeyed to Catania.

While there, St. Agatha came to Lucy in a dream and told her that because of her faith her mother would be cured and that Lucy would be the glory of Syracuse, as she was of Catania. With her mother cured, Lucy took the opportunity to persuade her mother to allow her to distribute a great part of her riches among the poor.

Eutychia suggested that the sums would make a good bequest, but Lucy countered, “…whatever you give away at death for the Lord’s sake you give because you cannot take it with you. Give now to the true Savior, while you are healthy, whatever you intended to give away at your death.”

News that the patrimony and jewels were being distributed came to Lucy’s betrothed, who denounced her to Paschasius, the Governor of Syracuse. Paschasius ordered her to burn a sacrifice to the Emperor’s image.

Lucy Before the Judge, by Lorenzo Lotto, 1523–32.
Lucy Before the Judge, by Lorenzo Lotto, 1523–32.

When she refused Paschasius sentenced Lucia to be defiled in a brothel. The Christian tradition states that when the guards came to take her away, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen.

Bundles of wood were then heaped about her and set on fire, but would not burn. Finally, she met her death by the sword.

Absent in the early narratives and traditions, at least until the 15th Century, is the story of Lucia tortured by eye-gouging. According to later accounts, before she died she foretold the punishment of Paschasius and the speedy end of the persecution, adding that Diocletian would reign no more, and Maximian would meet his end.

This so angered Paschasius that he ordered the guards to remove her eyes. Another version has Lucy taking her own eyes out in order to discourage a persistent suitor who admired them.

When her body was prepared for burial in the family mausoleum, however, it was discovered that her eyes had been miraculously restored.

Saint Lucy, by Niccolò di Segna, circa 1340.
Saint Lucy, by Niccolò di Segna, circa 1340.

The oldest record of her story comes from the 5th Century Acts. Jacobus de Voragine‘s Legenda Aurea was the most widely read version of the Lucy legend in the Middle Ages.

By the 6th Century, her story was sufficiently widespread that she appears in the Sacramentary of Pope Gregory I. She is also commemorated in the ancient Roman Martyrology.

St. Aldhelm and the Venerable Bede both attest that her popularity had already spread to England by the mid-7th Century. Saint Lucy’s festival was kept in England until the Protestant Reformation, as a holy day of the second rank, in which no work but tillage or the like was allowed.

Sigebert of Gembloux wrote a mid-11th Century Passio, to support a local cult of Lucy at Metz. Sigebert was inspired to compose the poem after visiting the relics of Lucia venerated at the Abbey of St. Vincent.

Abbey of St. Vincent, Laon, France.
Abbey of St. Vincent, Laon, France.

In his sermo de Sancta Lucia, Siegebert chronicled that her body lay undisturbed in Sicily for 400 years, before Faroald II, Duke of Spoleto, captured the island and transferred the body to Corfinium in the Abruzzo, Italy. From there it was removed by the Emperor Otho I in 972 to Metz and deposited in the Abbey of St. Vincent.

It was from this shrine that an arm of Saint Lucia was taken to the monastery of Luitburg in the Diocese of Speyer. This incident was celebrated by Sigebert in verse.

The subsequent history of the relics is not clear. According to Umberto BenigniPope Stephen II sent the relics of the Saint to Constantinople for safety against the Saracen incursions.

Cathedral Church of Bourges, France.
Cathedral Church of Bourges, France.

On their capture of Constantinople in 1204, the French found some relics attributed to Saint Lucy in the city, and Enrico DandoloDoge of Venice, secured them for the monastery of St. George at Venice. In 1513 the Venetians presented to Louis XII of France the Saint’s head, which he deposited in the Cathedral Church of Bourges.

The remainder of the relics remained in Venice before being transferred to the church of San Geremia when the church of Santa Lucia was demolished in 1861. A century later, on 7 November 1981, thieves stole all her bones, except her head.

Police recovered them 5 weeks later, on her feast day. Other parts of the corpse have found their way to Rome, Naples, Verona, Lisbon, Milan, as well as Germany, France and Sweden.

Saint Lucy by Domenico Beccafumi, 1521.
Saint Lucy by Domenico Beccafumi, 1521.

The emblem of eyes on a cup or plate apparently reflects popular devotion to her as protector of sight, because of her name, Lucia (from the Latin word lux which means light). In paintings St. Lucy is frequently shown holding her eyes on a golden plate as she also holds the palm branch, symbol of victory over evil.

She is also the Patroness of Syracuse in Sicily, Italy. At the Piazza Duomo in Syracuse, the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia houses the painting “Burial of St. Lucy (Caravaggio)“.

Dante also mentions Lucia in InfernoCanto II, as the messenger “of all cruelty the foe” sent to Beatrice from “The blessed Dame” (Divine Mercy), to rouse Beatrice to send Virgil to Dante’s aid. Lucia’s appearance in this intermediary role is to reinforce the scene in which Virgil tries to fortify Dante’s courage to begin the journey through the Inferno.

Saint Lucy in Dante's Inferno and Paradiso.
Saint Lucy in Dante’s Inferno and Paradiso.

In the Purgatorio IX : 52–63, Lucy carries the sleeping Dante to the entrance to Purgatory. Then in Paradiso XXXII Dante places her opposite Adam within the Mystic Rose in Canto XXXII of the Paradiso. Lucy may also be seen as a figure of Illuminating Grace or Mercy, or even Justice.

Now it’s time to party!

Burial place of Saint Lucy in Catacombs of San Giovani.
Burial place of Saint Lucy in Catacombs of San Giovani.

Saint Lucy’s Day, also called the Feast of Saint Lucy, is a Christian feast day celebrated on 13 December in Advent, commemorating Saint Lucy, who according to legend brought “food and aid to Christians hiding in the catacombs” using a candle-lit wreath to “light her way and leave her hands free to carry as much food as possible”. Her feast once coincided with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year before calendar reforms, so her feast day has become a festival of light.

Falling within the Advent season, Saint Lucy’s Day is viewed as an event signaling the arrival of Christmastide, pointing to the arrival of the Light of Christ in the Liturgical Year, on Christmas Day.

The General Roman Calendar formerly had a commemoration of Saints Lucy and Geminianus on 16 September. This was removed in 1969, as a duplication of the feast of her Dies Natalis (Day of Birth) on 13 December and because the Geminianus in question, mentioned in the Passio of Saint Lucy, seems to be a fictitious figure, unrelated to the Geminianus whose feast is on 31 January.

A Lucia procession in Sweden, 2007.
A Lucia procession in Sweden, 2007.

Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated most commonly in Scandinavia, with their long dark winters, where it is a major feast day, and in Italy. Each location, though, emphasizes a different aspect of the story.

In Scandinavia, where Saint Lucy is called Santa Lucia in Norwegian and Sankta Lucia in Swedish, she is represented as a lady in a white dress and red sash with a crown or wreath of candles on her head. In Norway, Sweden and Swedish-speaking regions of Finland, girls dressed as Lucy carry rolls and cookies in procession as songs are sung.

Boys participate in the procession as well, playing different roles associated with Christmas. It is said that to vividly celebrate Saint Lucy’s Day will help one live the long winter days with enough light.

The pre-Christian holiday of Yule (Jól) was the most important holiday in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Originally the observance of the Winter Solstice, and the rebirth of the sun, it brought about many practices that remain in the Advent and Christmas celebrations today.

Christmas season card with Lucia in the snow.
Christmas season card with Lucia in the snow.

The Yule season was a time for feasting, drinking, gift-giving, and gatherings. However, it was also the season of awareness and fear of the forces of the dark.

A special devotion to Santa Lucia is practiced in the Italian regions of LombardyEmilia-RomagnaVenetoFriuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, in the north of the country, and Sicily, in the south, as well as in Croatian coastal region of Dalmatia. In Hungary and Croatia, a popular tradition on Saint Lucy’s Day involves planting wheat grains that will eventually be several inches high on Christmas, representing the Nativity.

Saint Lucy is also popular among children in some regions of North-Eastern Italy where she is said to bring gifts to good children and coal to bad ones the night between December 12 and 13. According to tradition, she arrives in the company of a donkey and her escort, Gastaldo.

Children are asked to leave some coffee for Lucia, a carrot for the donkey and a glass of wine for Gastaldo. They must not watch Santa Lucia delivering these gifts, or she will throw ashes in their eyes, temporarily blinding them (ironic since she is the Patroness of People with Eye-Trouble).

Cuccia for Santa Lucia.
Cuccia for Santa Lucia.

Sicilians recall a legend that holds that a famine ended on her feast day when ships loaded with grain entered the harbor. Here, it is traditional to eat whole grains instead of bread on 13 December in the form of cuccia, a dish of boiled wheat berries often mixed with ricotta and honey, or sometimes served as a savory soup with beans.

An inscription in Syracuse dedicated to Euskia mentioning St Lucy’s Day as a local feast dates back to the 4th Century AD, which states “Euskia, the irreproachable, lived a good and pure life for about 25 years, died on my Saint Lucy’s feast day, she for whom I cannot find appropriate words of praise: she was a Christian, faithful, perfection itself, full of thankfulness and gratitude”.

The Feast of Saint Lucy became a universal feast of the Church in the 6th Century, commemorating the Christian martyr’s death on 13 December 304 AD. Saint Lucy’s Day appears in the sacramentary of Gregory, as well as that of Bede, and Christian churches were dedicated to Saint Lucy in Italy as well as in England.

Syracuse Festival of Santa Lucia.
Syracuse Festival of Santa Lucia.

Catholic celebrations take place on the 13th of December and in May. On her feast day, a silver statue of Saint Lucy containing her relics is paraded through the streets before returning to the Cathedral of Syracuse.

Saint Lucy procession inside a Swedish-American Lutheran church in Rochester, Minnesota.
Saint Lucy procession inside a Swedish-American Lutheran church in Rochester, Minnesota.

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which is the successor church to hundreds of Scandinavian and German Lutheran congregations, Saint Lucy is treated as a commemoration on December 13, in which red vestments are worn. Usually, the Sunday in Advent closest to December 13 is set aside for Saint Lucy, in which the traditional Scandinavian procession is observed.

Saint Lucy, by Francesco del Cossa (c. 1430 – c. 1477).
Saint Lucy, by Francesco del Cossa (c. 1430 – c. 1477).

We hope you enjoyed today’s discovery of Saint Lucia of Syracuse and the celebration of her feast day. Even if you are not of the faith, it’s really just another reason to party with friends and family.

Have a blessed Holiday Season. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Barnhill, Carla. “St. Lucy’s Day”. Christian History Magazine.

Blunt, John Henry. The Annotated Book of Common Prayer. London, 1885.

Bommer, Paul. “December 13 St. Lucy’s Day”. St. Nicholas Center, 2010.

Butler, Alban. “Lives of the Saints”.

Crump, William D. The Christmas Encyclopedia (3rd ed.). McFarland & Company, 2006. ISBN 978-0-7864-2293-7.

Dante. The Divine Comedy (trans. C.H. Sisson). Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-19-920960-X.

Eriksson, Stig A. Christmas traditions and performance rituals: a look at Christmas celebrations in a Nordic context. Applied Theater Researcher, 2002.

Hanson, Joelle. “Santa Lucia Day traditions”. ELCA, 13 December 2012.

Hynes, Mary Ellen; Mazar, Peter. Companion to the Calendar. Liturgy Training Publications, 1993. ISBN 978-156854011-5.

Lagazzi, Ines Belski (2012). Saint Lucy. Mimep-Docete. ISBN 9788884242228.

Moorcroft, Christine (1 May 2004). Religious Education. Folens Limited. p. 30. ISBN 9781843036562.

Paul, Tessa. “The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Saints”.

Calendarium Romanum. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969.

Gaius Appuleius Diocles: The World’s 1st Sports Billionaire

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

In today’s world we see many professional athletes showcasing their talents in their respective sport, and also in media through various endorsement deals.

These sports superstars are idolized, seen as role models, and are envied for the life in which they live in comparison to the average working person. Not much has changed over the course of 2 millenia.

The sports stars of the past were gladiators and charioteers instead of players of American Football, soccer, golf, basketball, tennis, baseball, etc. The fame and fortune was there, but on a completely different level.

With that we uncover the life of the world’s 1st sports billionaire, Gaius Appuleius Diocles!diocles2

As a modern example, in 2009 golfer Tiger Woods was heralded as the first athlete to earn over $1 billion. That is nothing to scoff at, but it’s small potatoes when compared to the earning potential of those in the Circus Maximus.

One charioteer, Gaius Appuleius Diocles, amassed a fortune 35,863,120 sesterces in prize money. That would be the modern equivalent of $15 billion (£9.6 billion.

Just take a moment to let that sink in.

We’ll come back to explain how Diocles was able to earn so much money. Let’s start though by taking a look at the man.

dioclesGaius Appuleius Diocles, a most likely illiterate man, was an ancient Hispano-Roman during the 2nd Century AD. In 104 AD, he was born In Lamecum (current Lamego) belonging to Emerita Augusta, capital of Lusitania (now Mérida, Spain).

As a child, Diocles lived at Lamecum with his father who worked and owned a transport business. It was here that the boy would race chariots.

His main renowned victory outside of Lusitania was in Ilerda (now LleidaCatalonia, Spain). This success gave him international fame and encouraged him go to Rome, where he was known as the Lamecus (since he was born in Lamecum).

Within Lamecus a statue of Diocles was erected on top the fountain in front of the garden, known as Jardim do Campo, located in the center of town. One can still see the tile panel painted by the famous painter Jorge Colaco where he portrays Diocles fitness as the supreme racing athlete driving quadrigas.

Diocles as a Green
Diocles as a Green

According to Roman author Tertullian, chariot racing originally just 2 teams, White and Red, sacred to winter and summer respectively. This grew into 4 teams (Red, White, Green, and Blue), with each team having up to 3 chariots each in a race.

Members of the same team often collaborated with each other against the other teams, for example to force them to crash into the spina (a legal and encouraged tactic). Drivers could switch teams, much like athletes can be traded to different teams today.

At age 18, Diocles began driving for the White team. After 6 years, he switched to the Green team. After 3 years with Green, he began driving for the Red team where he stayed

There is evidence which suggests that Diocles sought not only money but personal glory, another supposedly modern condition, with his choice of team. Of all the teams, the Greens and Blues were the most successful and popular.

Diocles as a Red
Diocles as a Red

Diocles began his career at age 18 as a White, before making a move to the Greens at age 24. This was a seemingly plum spot for any young charioteer.

Yet he transferred to the less popular, and potentially less stacked, Reds at age 27. This move had to have made financial sense and may have had personal motivations as well, since it was the worst of the 4 factions.

It is entirely possible, considering his weakness for showmanship, Diocles wished to be a single, shining star. His switch from the Greens, where he was one of many popular charioteers on a team with a storied history of them, so that he could write his own history with the Reds makes sense.

Diocles remained a Red until his retirement at age 42. That length as a charioteer was an accomplishment in itself.

Racing the Quadriga
Racing the Quadriga

The higher level of pay did not come without its perils for Diocles and his contemporaries. With little more than a leather helmet, shin guards and simple chest armor for protection, racers endured 7 grueling laps of competition, which often ended in the deaths of rivals unfortunate enough to be upended.

He most commonly came from behind to win his races. Records show that he won only 34% or 1,462 out of the 4,257 quadriga races he competed in though.

quadrigaThe Roman chariot racer’s career earnings, marked down with admirable permanence in a stone inscription erected in Rome in 146 AD by his fellow charioteers and fans, totaled 35,863,120 sesterces. With his earnings, Diocles could do any of the following: feed grain to all of Rome for an entire year; compensate the 5 most handsomely paid Provincial Governors’ salaries; or could bankroll the Roman Army, then at its world conquering height, for a fifth of a year.

Dr. Peter Struck, from the University of Chicago, said “By today’s standards that last figure, assuming the apt comparison is what it takes to pay the wages of the American armed forces for the same period, would cash out to about $15 billion.”

Champion Charioteers
Champion Charioteers

The 2nd Century “Champion of all Charioteers” made his fortune even without the sponsorship and marketing fees that bolster the pay of his modern counterparts in the sporting world. That’s something Tiger Woods could not claim.

Spurned by Forbes’s glee at Tiger Woods approaching the one billion mark, Struck’s brief article in Lapham’s Quarterly caught like wildfire. The GuardianThe Daily Telegraph, and the Discovery Channel were but a few of the outlets to breathlessly report Diocles’s immense wealth.

Aside from the romance which still smolders in the West for the Classical Era, the sheer size of the figure demanded enthusiastic attention. Fifteen billion dollars is such a sum, for one man, as to be staggering.

It is like the distance between stars, or the death tolls of certain Eastern Front battlefields. These are numbers so large as to be almost concepts.

While the news outlets salivated over Diocles’s immense fortune, it missed an important lesson encoded within his statistics. The Romans, as devout followers of sport as any modern society, kept meticulous records with regards to chariot racing; not only the charioteers of the 4 factions, but also stats on the horses as well, which were famed athletes in their own right.

Circus Maximus
Circus Maximus

Roman obsession with panem et circenses (bread and games) showed what the people valued most, the grain dole and chariot races in the Circus. The very phrase panem et circenses denotes this unhealthy preoccupation with materialistic stuff, a scope whose parallel can certainly be drawn in our modern terms.

Some races were worth more than others, and records show Diocles to have been a rather singular talent. 1,064 of his wins came in high stakes single entry races, wherein the Reds, Greens, Blues, and Whites would each offer unto the cruel Circus their best charioteer, who would fend of his adversaries without the aid of his teammates.

Charioteer relief
Charioteer relief

Diocles also notched 110 victories in opening races following grand processions in which the racers were a part. Such contests were like a Heavyweight Title Fight, where a bigger draw yields a bigger paycheck.

The life expectancy of a charioteer was not very high, so drivers could become celebrities throughout the Empire simply by surviving. One such celebrity driver was Scorpus, who won 2,048 races before being killed in a collision with the meta when he was about 27 years old.

Because many charioteers died quite young, this made Diocles’ career unusually long and stand out even more. By the time of his rather unusual death (calm and quiet after retirement), Diocles passed away in Praeneste, (present Palestrina, Italy)

Diocles and his ducenarius
Diocles and his ducenarius

Diocles is also notable for owning an extremely rare ducenarius, or a horse that had won at least 200 races.

We’re glad you joined us on today’s adventure. Make sure to join us again for who knows what we’ll uncover next.

And please be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Mandal, Dattatreya. “Gaius Appuleius Diocles – Possibly The Highest Paid Athlete In The History Of Mankind”. Realm of History. 21 May 2016.

Potter, David Stone. Life, Death, and Entertainment in the Roman Empire. University of Michigan Press, 1999. ISBN 0-472-08568-9.

Van Duisen, Michael. “The Highest-Paid Athlete Of All Time Is An Ancient Roman”KnowledgeNuts. 11 September 2013.

Wardrop, Murray. “Wealth of today’s sports stars is ‘no match for the fortunes of Rome’s chariot racers’”., 13 August 2010.

Zarley, B. David. “The Fifteen Billion Dollar Athlete”. Vice Sports. 23 March 2015.


Marcus Fulvius Nobilior: Consul 189 BC

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Within history, there are those that make an impact that is so large that many volumes are written about his or her life. Then, there are those people who are still impactful yet little has been preserved over the course of time.

Today we uncover the life of one of those important people that little is known about as we explore the life of Marcus Fulvius Nobilior!

Marcus Fulvius Nobilior was a Roman General and a member of one of the most important Patrician families, the Fulvius gens. He started his political career as Curule Aedile in 195 BC.

Nobilior was grandson of Servius Fulvius Paetinus Nobilior (Consul in 255 BC), and was named for his father. He had 2 sons, both of whom obtained the Consulship: Marcus Fulvius Nobilior (in 159 BC) and Quintus Fulvius Nobilior (in 153 BC).


As Praetor (193 BC) he served with distinction in Hispania, and as Consul in 189 BC he completely broke the power of the Aetolian League. On his return to Rome, Nobilior celebrated a Triumphus remarkable for the magnificence of the spoils exhibited (of which full details are given by Livy).

On his Aetolian campaign, Nobilior was accompanied by the poet Ennius. Said poet made the capture of Ambracia, at which he was present, the subject of one of his plays.

For this Nobilior was bitterly attacked by Cato the Censor because he had compromised his dignity as a Roman General. In 179 BC, Nobilior was appointed Censor together with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.

He restored the Temple of Hercules and the Muses in the Circus Flaminius, placed in it a list of Fasti drawn up by himself, and endeavored to make the Roman Calendar more generally known. He was a great enthusiast for Greek art and culture, and introduced many of its masterpieces into Rome, amongst them the picture of the Muses by Zeuxis from Ambracia.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you back again soon.  Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for special additions.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Macrobius. Saturnalia. 1.12.16

Marcus Fulvius Nobilior.

Richard Jackson King. Desiring Rome: Male Subjectivity and Reading Ovid’s Fasti. Ohio State University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-8142-1020-8.


Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If there’s something to do with Rome (City / Kingdom / Republic / Empire or otherwise) we are interested. People, places and events that impacted this history are also on our radar.

That is why today we journey through The Roman Empire – The Age of Augustus!

Augustus (full name in Latin: Imperātor Caesar Dīvī Fīlius Augustus) lived from 23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD. He was the founder of the Roman Empire and its original Emperor, ruling from 27 BC until his death in AD 14.

He was born Gaius Octavius into an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian Octavii family. His maternal great-uncle Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir, then known as Octavianus (Anglicized as Octavian).

The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana (The Roman Peace). The Roman world was largely free from large-scale conflict for more than two centuries, despite continuous wars of imperial expansion on the Empire’s frontiers and one year-long civil war over the imperial succession.

Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia. He also expanded possessions in AfricaGermania, and completed the conquest of Hispania.

When all is said and done, Augustus was a man who made things happen. Rome was a city built of brick and dirt, but he left it one of marble!

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you back again soon. If you haven’t done so already, please be sure to check us out on Facebook and Twitter for extra content.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!


Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If there’s something we love, it’s a good visual presentation about Roman history. Whether fictional or not, any television show or movie connecting us with Ancient Rome is a win.

That is why today we are taking a visual exploration of the Roman Republic!

The Res Publica Romana was the period of Ancient Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome’s control expanded from the city’s immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world.

During the initial 2 centuries of its existence, the Roman Republic expanded through a combination of conquest and alliance, from central Italy to the entire Italian peninsula. By the following century, it included North Africa, Spain, and what is now southern France.

Two centuries after that, towards the end of the 1st Century BC, it included the rest of modern France, Greece, and much of the eastern Mediterranean. By this time, internal tensions led to a series of civil wars, culminating with the assassination of Julius Caesar, which led to the transition from Republic to Empire.


We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure and look forward to having you back again for more. Please check us out on Facebook and Twitter, and tell your friends about us.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

The Origins of Halloween

roman-mosaic_skeletonHappy Halloween from Rome Across Europe! Today’s Halloween customs are thought to have been influenced by folk customs and beliefs from the Celtic-speaking countries, some of which are believed to have pagan roots.

Roman Funeral
Roman Funeral

Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while “some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which comes from the Old Irish for “summer’s end”.

A traditional Irish Halloween turnip (rutabaga) lantern
A traditional Irish Halloween turnip (rutabaga) lantern

Samhain (pronounced sah-win or sow-in) was the primary and most important of the 4 quarter days in the medieval Gaelic calendar and was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. It was held on or about 31 October – 1 November and a kindred festival was held at the same time of year by the Brittonic Celts.

halloween_swedenSamhain and Calan Gaeaf are mentioned in some of the earliest Irish and Welsh literature. The names have been used by historians to refer to Celtic Halloween customs up until the 19th Century, and are still the Gaelic and Welsh names for Halloween.

Enjoy your celebration and Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

John VIII Palaiologos: His Reign Ended Today

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

For those of you who didn’t realize it, today is October 31st aka Halloween. If you need to leave now and scramble for a costume before heading to a party or Trick-or-Treating (with or without children, we don’t judge), we completely understand.

Since Halloween is the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day and dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed, we thought we should stick to this theme.

That is why today we remember the second to last reigning Byzantine Emperor, John VIII Palaiologos, who died on this day in 1448!VIII

Before we begin (for those that did not already know) the Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire) was the continuation of the Roman Empire in the East during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul, originally founded as Byzantium). It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th Century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

VIII 2Since we have made the connection to Ancient Rome, let’s get back to the Emperor.

Aside from his date of birth (18 December 1392), not much information exists about John VIII’s childhood or life before ruling. John was the eldest son of Manuel II Palaiologos and Helena Dragaš, the daughter of the Serbian Prince Constantine Dragaš.

John was crowned co-Emperor with his father in 1408, and took effective rule in 1421. The Empire that John VIII was to rule, however, was but a shadow of itself.Map

Two years before he came to the throne, Thessaloniki had been given to the Venetians in the hope of saving it from the Ottomans. Elsewhere John ruled a little of Thrace, a few islands, the city of Constantinople, and the Morea.

This southern province was had become a flourishing hub of Byzantine culture, centered around the court of the despots in the city of Mystras. John’s brother Constantine had even managed to expand his little realm by conquering the remainder of the Morea and Attica.

In June 1422, John VIII supervised the defense of Constantinople during a siege by Murad II, but had to accept the loss of Thessalonica, which his brother Andronikos had given to Venice in 1423.

John spent much of his reign attempting to gain aid against the Ottomans from the West. John traveled to Venice and Hungary in 1423–24 to ask for aid in person.

By Pisanello Antonio Pisano
By Pisanello Antonio Pisano

Upon his father’s death in 1425, John became sole Emperor. He ruled only the area immediately surrounding Constantinople, while his brothers governed remnants of the fragmented Empire in the Greek Peloponnese and in the districts on the Black Sea.

When the Turks took Thessalonica in March 1430, John turned to the West for help. In 1437 he went to Italy. In 1438 a Byzantine delegation, led by the Emperor, arrived in Venice, on their way to attend a Council of the Church in Ferrara.

The Council would later move to Florence. It was here, in 1439, at the Council of Florence that John signed an act of union formally placing the Byzantine church under the jurisdiction of the Pope.

Miracle of Saint Clare, by Giovanni di Paolo
Miracle of Saint Clare, by Giovanni di Paolo

It was John’s hope that by this act he would benefit from a Western Crusade against the Ottomans which would save his crumbling Empire. The resulting Crusade was crushed at Varna in 1444, and with it died the last real hope Byzantium had of attaining aid from Western Europe.

Western efforts against the Turks failed, however, and the union stirred dissension among the Byzantines, who refused to submit their church to Pope Eugene IV. Although his efforts at unification failed, John’s trip to Italy was not without some benefit and was an important event in the history of the Italian Renaissance.

John attended the ratification with 700 followers including Patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople and George Gemistos Plethon, a Neoplatonist philosopher influential among the academics of Italy. Italian artists, including Benozzo Gozzoli, captured the splendor of John and his entourage.JVIII

Of greater significance was the exchange of ideas between members of the entourage, which included scholars and Italian humanists. Italian scholars also benefited from access to Greek manuscripts, which were freely bought and sold at the Council’s meeting places.

Medal of John VIII during his visit to Florence, by Pisanello
Medal of John VIII during his visit to Florence, by Pisanello

The Union failed due to opposition in Constantinople, but through his prudent conduct towards the Ottoman Empire he succeeded in holding possession of the city. John’s spirit was broken, and intrigues over the succession, coupled with news of the Turkish victory over the Hungarians in the Second Battle of Kosovo in October 1448, hastened his death.

John VIII named his brother Constantine XI, who had served as regent in Constantinople in 1437–1439, as his successor. Despite the conspiracies of younger brother Demetrios Palaiologos, Constantine XI’s mother Helena was able to secure his succession in 1448.

John VIII Palaiologos died 31 October 1448 in Constantinople. His death preceded that of his Empire by just 5 years.

What does seem to be remembered about John VIII’s personal life was that he was married 3 times. His initial marriage was in 1414 to Anna of Moscow, daughter of Grand Prince Basil I of Moscow and Sophia of Lithuania.

After Anna died in August 1417 of plague, John’s next marriage was arranged by his father and Pope Martin V to Sophia of Montferrat in 1421. She was a daughter of Theodore II, Marquess of Montferrat, and his second wife Joanna of Bar.

Joanna was a daughter of Robert I, Duke of Bar, and Marie Valois. Her maternal grandparents were John II of France and Bonne of Bohemia.

John’s final marriage, arranged by the future Cardinal Bessarion, was to Maria of Trebizond in 1427. She was a daughter of Alexios IV of Trebizond and Theodora Kantakouzene.

Maria died in the winter of 1439, also from plague. Sadly, none of John’s marriages produced any children.

John VIII Palaiologos by Benozzo Gozzoli
John VIII Palaiologos by Benozzo Gozzoli

John VIII Palaiologos was famously depicted by several painters on the occasion of his visit to Italy. Perhaps the most famous of his portraits is the one by Benozzo Gozzoli, on the southern wall of the Magi Chapel, at the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, in Florence.

John VIII Palaiologos in Sinai
John VIII Palaiologos in Sinai

According to some interpretations, John VIII would be also portrayed in Piero della Francesca‘s Flagellation. A portrait of John appears in a manuscript at the Saint Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula.

John VIII was also the final Emperor represented in the seals collection at Dumbarton Oaks. This golden seal of John VIII displays Christ before a low throne on the obverse, and the Emperor wearing a crown and loros, holding a long cross and an akakia on the reverse.Imperial Seal

John was identified as autocratic. His was the only appearance of a title, other than Despots, on an Imperial Seal since the reign of Michael VII (1071–1078).

While today’s journey may not have been glamorous, it was scary. We had death and the fall of an empire, which is pretty scary.

We look forward to having you stop by and look forward to having you back again. Please check us out on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to tell everyone you know.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Harris, Jonathan. The End of Byzantium. Yale University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-300-11786-8.

Kolditz, Sebastian. Johannes VIII. Palaiologos und das Konzil von Ferrara-Florenz (1438/39). Anton Hiersemann Verlag, 2013-2014. ISBN 978-3-7772-1319-4.

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